Micro-scale metal AM process produces ‘ant-sized’ copy of iconic sculpture


Cytosurge AG, Glattbrugg, Switzerland, has demonstrated the capabilities of its FluidFM® µ3Dprinter by producing a microscopic metal additively manufactured copy of Michelangelo’s David sculpture. Over the last two years, Cytosurge has been developing the FluidFM µ3Dprinter’s hardware and Additive Manufacturing process to enable it to build metal objects from the size of bacteria to ants.

The micro-scale David was produced in pure copper and stands at just over 700 µm tall, weighing 10 µg. While the original sculpture took four years to carve out of solid marble in the early 1500s, this micro-scale demonstrator part reportedly took just under twelve hours to build and has a hollow structure.

Dr Giorgio Ercolano, R&D Process Engineer Additive Manufacturing at Cytosurge AG, stated, “It is more than just a copy and downsized model of Michelangelo’s David. Our deep understanding of the printing process has led to a new way of processing the 3D computer model of the statue and then converting it into machine code. That’s what makes the new David statue so extraordinary.”

“This object has been sliced from an open-source CAD file and afterwards was sent directly to the printer,” he stated. “This slicing method enables an entirely new way to print designs with the FluidFM µ3Dprinter.” The David is reported to be the largest object created by using Cytosurge’s FluidFM technology.

The FluidFM μ3Dprinter is a standalone system capable of additively manufacturing complex pure metal objects at the nanometer to micrometer scale with reportedly pinpoint accuracy, aligned on existing objects or surfaces. The amount of metal deposited during a build ranges from 1 μm3 to 6’000’000 µm3 per structure, a range that Cytosurge stated is unobtainable by most other techniques.

Originally invented at ETH Zurich, FluidFM AM technology uses a tiny pipette with a 300-nm-wide opening for local electrodeposition of metals, in this case copper. The hollow FluidFM nanopipette is brought into proximity (~1 µm) with a conductive surface and a metal ion-containing liquid is dispensed.

A negative potential applied to the surface reduces the delivered metal ions to solid atoms, which deposit just below the pipette opening. Once the gap between surface and pipette is filled with the solid copper atoms, the pipette moves to the next position, repeating the deposition and like this, a three-dimensional structure is created.

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